Ghana’s Art Scene – The Hostile Paradise
Ghana is a country blessed with rich culture, talents, and unique artists doing outstandingly creative things, like Serge Attukwei Clottey. Gaining wide popularity in Africa, Serge refers to his work as “Afrogallonism”, a concept that examines the powerful agency of everyday objects like the ubiquitous yellow gallon containers originally brought to Ghana as cooking oil canisters, but often reused for water and petrol. Serge cuts, drills, stitches, and melts these and other found materials to make abstract art on which he inscribes patterns and text.
As an artist myself, Ghana’s art scene has shown encouraging signs in the last few years. In the past, without a platform to exhibit and sell our work, Ghanaian artists had to sell art along the street or in hotels. Now, thanks to festivals like Chale Wote, there are more and more places to not only sell and exhibit art, but to create a connection between artists and the public through workshops, artist talks, residencies, and so on.
I was born in Accra, Ghana in 1993, and named Blebo Michael Jackson by my father after his favorite singer of the 90s. As a kid, I wanted to be a pilot because in Africa, most parents want their children to have a white collar job after completing university. But while in primary school, I developed a passion for drawing and art, in part inspired by an older cousin who was very good at drawing cars. However, he was forced to stop drawing to focus instead on his Science and Mathematics studies. I was in a similar situation. My family had the utmost disregard for arts, but that didn’t deter me from drawing on everything from books and desks to blackboards and sometimes even walls. After school, I spent time with artists in my neighborhood, practicing my drawing, painting, and lettering.
In high school, the Head of Academics suggested that I change my studies from Visual Arts to Business or General Arts, but I refused, and continued on to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Sculpture) from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana.
My inspiration as an artist comes mostly from the environment. I am attracted to old or decaying logs for their grain and textures. I use charcoal, white clay, and natural pigment to draw and paint these rotten logs on a large scale, rendering paths and patterns that seem natural but abstract at the same time. I am especially drawn to the bark of different species of trees, some of which provide life for plants like the ghost mushroom.
My journey as an artist has not been friendly or easy. This is because it is difficult for an emerging artist to have artwork exhibited or to be represented by an art gallery. After attending Chale Wote countless times, an annual street art festival in Accra, I finally submitted a proposal to participate this year as an artist.
Chale Wote literally means “My friend, let’s go”, a commonly used phrase in Ghana. Beginning in July 2011 as a one-day festival, for the first time this year, it was celebrated over two weeks. Chale Wote features a blend of culture and is enjoyed by the young, the old, the elite and the masses. It has no class boundaries.
This year’s theme was “Pidgin Imaginarium” and the festival hosted about 80-100 Ghana-based and international artists and included different activities across Accra like film labs, art fairs, a photography salon, Ga folk music, performance and film screenings, panel discussions, and more.
Chale Wote also provided an avenue for some Ghana-based artists including myself to not only exhibit but also to sell our works. The Shika Shika Art Fair was held in a white, cube-like space and exhibited a variety of artworks including sculpture, installations, paintings, abstract drawings, and digital paintings.
Image: Abdul-Haqq Mahama
Though I made no sales during the exhibition, I was very appreciative of Chale Wote for providing me and other artists with exhibition space to have our works come out of our studios to be seen by an audience. There was also a lab where artists were given an opportunity to explain the ideas and concepts behind their art as the audience asked questions.
This year’s festival recorded its highest ever attendance of 50,000 people, making it Africa’s largest street art festival. I hope that in the future, Chale Wote will be celebrated across other regions of Ghana and not only in Accra.
Chale Wote is typically held in August. For more, visit ACCRA [dot] Alt.
About the author
Blebo Michael Jackson, aka MJ, is an emerging artist based in Ghana specializing in sculpture, abstract drawings, painting, and portraiture. Follow him on Instagram.